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Doctors and Specialists Who Treat the Flu

Flu doctors and specialists

Key points

  1. Most healthy people don’t need to see a doctor for flu treatment.
  2. Certain symptoms may indicate a medical emergency.
  3. Get a flu shot every fall, especially if you’re in a high-risk group.

Most healthy individuals do not require a doctor’s care to prevent, diagnose, or treat the flu. Flu vaccines are now readily available at local pharmacies and grocery stores at very affordable prices. Treatment for the flu is often simple bed rest, fluids, and over-the-counter painkillers for symptoms.

The flu can be serious for people in certain high-risk groups. These groups include children, people age 65 and older, pregnant women, and people with already weakened immune systems. People in these groups should see their healthcare provider at the first signs of infection.

Close monitoring of flu symptoms is essential for everyone, but especially for those in high-risk groups. Call your healthcare provider immediately if flu symptoms worsen or last more than two weeks. You should also get care if you suddenly improve and then return with a worsened cough and fever.

There are a number of doctors who can help with flu prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Their role in combating the flu and its related complications should not be minimized.

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Primary care physician

Primary care physician

Every fall, make an appointment with your primary care doctor or family doctor to get a flu shot. This is especially important if you or anyone in your family falls in a high-risk category.

You may be a member of a group at high risk for secondary complications of the flu. If so, you should contact your doctor as soon as you develop any flu-like symptoms.

You should also see a specialist if your symptoms seem particularly severe. Your family doctor will decide whether you need to be referred to a specialist.

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Pediatrician

Pediatrician

A pediatrician is a doctor who specializes in providing healthcare for children. Contact your child’s pediatrician every fall to see if a flu vaccination is appropriate. Children under 6 months of age should not receive a flu shot.

Have your child see their pediatrician if they develop the flu with severe symptoms. The pediatrician can assess their symptoms to determine the best course of treatment and whether they should see a specialist.

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Infectious disease specialist

Infectious disease specialist

Infectious disease specialists have specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases, including the influenza virus. Rarely, you may be referred to an infectious disease specialist if you or your child has an especially severe case of the flu or if the cause of flu-like symptoms is not immediately clear.

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Emergency care

Emergency care physician

Certain symptoms in adults, children, or infants may indicate a medical emergency.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists emergency flu symptoms for adults, children, and infants. Adult emergency symptoms include:

  • vomiting that is severe or constant
  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath 
  • fainting
  • mental confusion
  • chest or abdomen pain or pressure
  • dizziness that is sudden or severe
  • symptoms that disappear and then reappear with a worsened cough and fever

Infant or child emergency symptoms include:

  • problems breathing (including rapid breathing)
  • bluish skin
  • not drinking an adequate amount of fluids
  • difficulty waking up, listlessness
  • crying that gets worse when the child is picked up
  • no tears when crying
  • flu symptoms that disappear but then reappear with a fever and a worsened cough
  • fever with a rash
  • loss of appetite or an inability to eat
  • decreased number of wet diapers
  • Significant decrease in responsiveness and activity level

If your child develops any of these serious symptoms, take them to an emergence department to be evaluated.

Pneumonia is a common complication of the flu. This is especially true for certain high-risk groups, such as those over 65, young children, and people with already weakened immune systems. The Mayo Clinic advises seeking medical treatment if you have symptoms of pneumonia, including:

  • a severe, persistent cough producing pus or phlegm
  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • fever higher than 102°F that persists, especially if accompanied by chills or sweating
  • acute chest pains

Untreated pneumonia can lead to serious complications and even death. Older adults, smokers, and people with weakened immune systems should be especially careful.

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Questions to consider

Questions to consider

The following are some questions to consider when deciding whether to seek medical treatment for the flu:

Am I (or is my child) in any of the high-risk groups for flu-related complications?

High-risk groups include:

  • children age 5 and under
  • adults age 65 and older
  • pregnant women
  • people with weakened immune systems
  • people under age 19 on aspirin therapy
  • people who take steroid medications

Do I (or does my child) have any emergency symptoms?

Emergency symptoms include:

  • persistent fever over 102°F
  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pains
  • bluish skin
  • severe dizziness
  • changes in crying, eating, or drinking patterns (in children)
  • changes in mental state

Additional questions

Here are some additional questions to consider:

  • Have my (or my child’s) flu symptoms lasted longer than seven days?
  • Have symptoms improved and then worsened?
  • In particular, has there been improvement and then a resurgence of fever and a worsening cough?

Answering yes to any of the above questions is good cause to call your healthcare provider as soon as possible. Early treatment of flu-related complications is key to preventing serious illness.

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